"Football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that."
Out in Sport
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Eric Anderson, Rory Magrath and Rachael Bullingham, London, Routledge, 2016 ISBN: 978-1-138-18221-9Out in Sport, The experiences of openly gay and lesbian athletes in competitive sport,looks at the experience of gay and lesbian athletes through several pieces of empirical research. Their conclusions are broadly that the climate has dramatically changed for the better over recent decades. The authors suggest that: “Whereas athletes used to believe that sport has elevated levels of homophobia compare to society as a whole, today’s athletes see their sports teams as safe places for the gay men” while also stating: “it could be suggested that lesbian women face more hostility than gay men in sport”.
They helpful note an important gender difference with regard to sport, which might be summed up: “While boys’ participation in sport was thought to affirm their masculinity heterosexuality women who excelled at sport were thought to challenge femininity and therefore faced an assumption of lesbianism”.
The authors suggest that homophobia results in pressure on women to participate in appropriate sports such as gymnastics or cheerleading. Similarly gay men are more accepted in feminized sports (like ice dancing) than more traditional masculine sports.
They suggest that homohysteria in America is partly due to the revival of fundamentalist Christianity which saw same sex relationships as a threat to family life and accuse Christians of “conveniently using this fear to increase donations to the church in an age in which church attendance began to decline” – hardly a helpful approach to understanding genuine convictions of Christian.
The book makes three references to Justin Fashanu, stating firstly that “he was harassed by his team mates, the press and sport fans” and also “harassed and bullied by his family, team mates and fans”. I knew Justin for several years and, at the invitation of his family, attended his private funeral. The statement that he was “harassed and bullied by his family” is simply not true. In my experience, his small family (remember that he grew up in Barnardos and foster homes) was supportive of him.
The idea of Fashanu killing himself because of harassment in football may suit the authors’ argument but the reality is much more complex and ignores his struggles coming to terms with a football career which promised much but had effectively ended at the top level when he was 21, the difficulty he had reconciling his feelings of sexual orientation and his Christian faith and an American police investigation into him – none of which is mentioned – were all significant factors.
The book includes some very useful material on women and sport but also makes some surprising statements. The comments on the Castor Semanya incident are shallow and do not do justice to the issues – I write as one who was present as an athletics writer at the 2009 World Championship where the issue first arose. The inclusion of golf in sports where there is no gender advantage is strange as none of the women who have played in men’s tournaments made any impact due to their lack of power compared to the men. The statement that there is poor representation of lesbian athletes in professional sport, seems a surprising statement.
Overall a helpful contribution to an important topic.